Alphabetical Menu
Chronological Menu

Reviews for May 5th, 2023

Documentary Round-Up

      Anxious Nation is a documentary that raises awareness about the current crisis of anxiety in the US. Co-directors Laura Morton and Vanessa Roth follow children and young adults who suffer from anxiety and are finding ways to cope with it after finally getting correctly diagnosed. Not surprisingly, a lot of factors, such as social media, can lead to anxiety. It's also related to one's genetics. Interviews with psychologists provide insight about anxiety and how to deal with it while the footage with the people suffering from anxiety provide a little bit of hope. The filmmakers should be commended for tackling an important issue, although their decision to begin the doc with the fact that mental health disorders are the leading threats to public health for teenagers might make you feel anxious, especially if you have a child who's a teen or younger, so that's not a very effective way to start the film. There are simply too many talking heads and not enough focus on the individuals who suffer from anxiety. Why just show the impact of anxiety on children and young adults? What about adults and the elderly? What about the side effects from the anti-anxiety pharmaceutical drugs that people with anxiety take? How effective are those drugs in the long run? What about anxiety in other countries? Why and how did anxiety replace teen pregnancy and drunk driving as the leading public health threat to teenagers? Those are just some of the questions that remain underexplored by the time the end credits roll. The filmmakers fail to find the right balance between entertaining the audience and provoking them emotionally as well as intellectually. Anxious Nation is mildly engaging, but it's somewhat dry, incomplete and ultimately bites off more than it could chew. It opens at Village East by Angelika via Area 23a.

      The Melt Goes on Forever: The Art & Times of David Hammons is a fascinating and illuminating documentary biopic about the work of African-American artist David Hammons. Co-directors Harold Crooks and Judd Tully blend archival footage and interviews with art historians, artists and art collectors to provide insight about Hammons. He made sculptures and art installations in the 1970s and 80s, and still remains alive today, but he expressed his aversion to doing interviews, so, not surprisingly, there are no interviews with him in this doc. There's little to no information about his life outside of the art world, and that's fine because his artworks reflect a lot about him as a critically-thinking human being. Kudos to Crooks and Tully for respecting his privacy and understanding the concept of boundaries. They do a great job of introducing the audience to Hammons' artwork and what makes it so significant today, especially when it comes to what the artworks say about race and class issues. Hammons comes across as a bold and eccentric artist who's unafraid to be provocative and divisive through his artwork, i.e. a sculpture made out of African-American hair. Other artworks include a scupture made out of glass bottles glued together, bottle caps nailed onto tall poles, and snowballs which he sold in the East Village of Manhattan back in 1983. In case you're wondering the documentary's title comes from a thought-provoking observation by one of the scholars who's interviewed in the film. If you're unfamiliar with Hammons' work, prepare to be concurrently intrigued by his artwork and surprised that he's not more widely known as an artist. At a running time of 1 hour and 41 minutes, The Melt Goes on Forever: The Art & Times of David Hammons opens at Film Forum via Greenwich Entertainment. It would make for an interesting double feature with the recent documentary, Nam June Paik: Moon is the Oldest TV.

Double Life

Directed by Martin Wood

      Sharon (Pascale Hutton) teams up with Jo (Javicia Leslie), the mistress of her late husband, Mark (Niall Matter), to investigate his mysterious death.

      A great mystery, like Arlington Road, or any Hitchcock movie, knows what to inform the audience with key information, how to inform them about it and, most importantly, when to inform them. If audiences were to see the darker side of Norman Bates from the very beginning of Psycho, it wouldn't work as effectively as a suspense thriller. Unfortunately, co-writers Michael Hurst and Chris Sivertson do a poor job of incorporating exposition for many reasons including the fact that they show Mark cheating on Sharon with Jo within the first few minutes. When Mark dies in a suspicious car crash after someone follows his car, Sharon has no clue yet that Mark is cheating on her. By putting the audience steps ahead of Sharon in terms of what information she knows, it makes it harder to connect with her because you're not on the same page as her. When she meets Jo, Sharon is surprised, but you're not because you already know that Mark had a mistress. What did Mark see in Jo that made him want to cheat on his wife with her? What kind of marriage did Mark and Sharon have before he died? Double Life isn't concerned about exploring those questions or humanizing any of the characters for that matter. They're all merely plot devices, including Detective Carmen Traxler (Carmen Moore). As you can probably imagine based on the film's spoilery title, Mark had a double life with some secrets that Sharon and Jo uncover together. Who's responsible for his death? What's their motive? Those are the only questions that remain which could have answers that bring something intriguing and surprising to the film, but, alas, they do not during the overwrought third act.

      Even during the action scenes, Double Life falls flat as a thriller. There's nothing exceptional about the cinematography, set design, lighting, editing or anything else that would have provided it with style to compensate for its screenplay's shortcomings. The performances range from mediocre to wooden to hammy. Not a single scene rings true which would've been fine if this were a parody, but it's not. It's also afraid to take risks by going darker like Arlington Road, Black Box (the French film), The Parallax View and 3 Days of the Condor, so it tries too hard to tie everything in a neat bow at the end while giving the audience a contrived Hollywood ending. At a running time of 1 hour and 29 minutes, Double Life is convoluted, clunky and increasingly implausible with waning suspense and poor use of exposition.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Paramount Global Content Distribution.
Opens in select theaters and on VOD.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3

Directed by James Gunn

      When Warlock (Will Poulter) kidnaps Rocket (voice of Bradley Cooper) and holds him hostage, Peter (Chris Pratt), Drax (Dave Bautista), Nebula (Karen Gillan), Mantis (Pom Klementieff) and Groot (voice of Vin Diesel), team up to rescue him, but learn that he's in a coma and has a kill switch embedded inside of him that prevents them from healing him. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) joins their quest which also includes finding the technology needed to override a kill switch. Meanwhile, the High Evolutionary (Chukwudi Iwuji) hopes to use Rocket's DNA to create a perfect society.

      The novelty of Guardians of the Galaxy has worn off in the final installment of the Guardians trilogy. If you're looking for an exhilarating and funny sci-fi action adventure with tongue-in-cheek humor and wit, you'll be disappointed. The screenplay by writer/director James Gunn has jokes that feel either forced or repetitive or both. Groot used to be funny in the first film, but he's become less and less funny throughout the film series. He's a one-note character. The same can be said about the villains who are cartoonish. Gunn also does a poor job of introducing the characters, i.e. Warlock, who remains an underdeveloped character, so exposition isn't among the film's strong points. There's either too little exposition or scenes with clunky exposition. The High Evolutionary has plans to create a perfect society, but what exactly does perfect mean to him? How will he implement that plan and what will the rules of the totalitarian society be? He's essentially like Hitler, but the film doesn't give him much of a backstory or make him very menacing. In other words, he's a boring villain. The most captivating scenes are far and few between: the scenes with Rocket bonding with other imprisoned animals. That's when the film's humor lands the most, too. Beyond that, there's not much that feels engaging. The action scenes are exciting at first, but quickly become tiresome. When the plot tries to tack-on some poignancy during a few scenes, it becomes cheesy instead. That's the double-edged sword of trying to be sentimental: trying too hard to be moving can lead to schmaltz if it doesn't feel authentic or well-integrated into the screenplay. Just when you think that the film will have the guts to take a risk and go into dark territory in a scene that won't be spoiled here, it chickens out as though the audience were too emotionally immature to handle tough emotions. Why treat the audience as though they were babies? Is it too much to ask a filmmaker to trust the audience's emotions? Apparently, the answer seems to be a resounding "Yes."

      Just as expected, the CGI effects are superb and dazzling. Everything from the costume design, makeup design, set design and sound design stand out while providing plenty of entertainment for your eyes and ears. It's too bad that a lot of attention and imagination seems to have been spent on the film's production values, but very little on the bland screenplay. Not surprisingly, there's also some lively music in the soundtrack which lead to some scenes looking and feeling like a music video. If all you care about is being bombarded and desensitized with action scenes reminiscent of a video game, then you'll be at least moderately satisfied with Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.. If you're looking for more than that, it'll be slim pickings, so prepare to be disappointed. At an excessive running time of 2 hours and 30 minutes, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3. is overlong, clunky and dull. It's high on schmaltz and visual Spectacle while low on laughs, wit and palpable thrills.

Number of times I checked my watch: 4
Released by Walt Disney Pictures.
Opens nationwide.

Love Again

Directed by Jim Strouse

      Mira (Priyanka Chopra Jonas), a children's book author, lives with her sister, Suzy (Sofia Barclay), in New York City and still hasn't overcome the death of her boyfriend, John (Arinze Kene), two years earlier. She decides to process her grief by texting her feelings to John's cell phone number which now belongs to the work phone of Rob (Sam Heughan), a music critic who also lives in NYC. Rob becomes infatuated by his mysterious texter and attends the opera Orpheus and Eurydice hoping to find her there. They meet and begin dating, but little does she know that he has been receiving her texts to John's cell phone number.

      The screenplay by writer/director Jim Strouse, based novel by Sofie Cramer and the German film Text for You begins with the tragic death of John, who was going to propose to Mira before a drunk driver struck and killed him in from of her.  The screenplay barely spends time with Mira and John, but you know just enough to understand that Mira and John love each other. You also don't know much about Rob and his ex-girlfriend, but you know that he still has some feelings for her because he checks her instagram where she appears to be in a happy relationship with her new boyfriend. Strouse does an effective job of not making Rob an unlikable jerk for withholding key information from Mira about the texts that he receives from her to his work phone. He's not a bad person because he doesn't intend on hurting her---he wants to tell her the truth, but doesn't know how to or when to tell her. Cue Celine Dion (playing herself), whom Rob is writing an article about for work. She becomes like a therapist and maternal figure for Rob by dishing out advice and aphorisms to help him in his love life---oh, and she happens to be a big fan of Mira and her children's books. Rob also has two co-workers, Billy (Russell Tovey) and Lisa (Lydia West), who provide some comic relief while they, too, meddle in his love life. To be fair, Love Again doesn't dwell on or dig deep into its darker themes like grief, death and trauma, but it doesn't totally ignore them either. Fundamentally, it's about love, serendipity, forgiveness, hope, and the wise words of poet Pablo Neruda: "They can cut all of the flowers, but they can't stop the spring from coming."  

      Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Sam Heughan have palpable chemistry which helps you to want Mira and Rob to end up together. Chemistry is everything in a romcom, so kudos to the casting director and Jim Strouse for selecting romantic leads who are very charismatic. The supporting actors and actresses are also terrific including Celia Imrie, who makes the most out of her few scenes, Omid Djalili, and Steve Oram who has a hilarious scene as Rob's editor. Then there's the wonderful music by Celine Dion including some of her new songs. At a running time of 1 hour and 44 minutes, Love Again is a heartwarming, tender and witty romantic comedy. If you enjoy 90's romcoms like You've Got Mail and While You Were Sleeping, you'll probably enjoy Love Again, too. It would make for a good double feature with Aline, a loose biopic of Celine Dion.


Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Screen Gems.
Opens nationwide.

One Ranger

Directed by Jesse V. Johnson

      Alex Tyree (Thomas Jane), a Texas ranger joins British Intelligence agents Darby (Dominique Tipper) and her superior (Darby (John Malkovich) on a mission to hunt down a terrorist, Declan McBride (Dean Jagger), who's planning to detonate a bomb in London.

      The screenplay by writer/director Jesse V. Johnson begins as a Western before morphing into a mindless, overwrought and shallow action thriller. When you first meet Alex, he's chasing some criminals in a Texas desert. Little does he know that he's about to cross paths with a bigger criminal, Declan, who gets captured before escaping. Soon enough, British Intelligence agents bring Alex on their team to help them stop Declan from blowing up London with a bomb. Once Alex's true plans in London are revealed, One Ranger takes a nosedive and loses steam because there's no mystery to solve left. Writer/director Jesse V. Johnson neglects to humanize any of the characters, so they're merely caricatures with little to no backstory. The plot just goes through the motions without any wit or comic relief, so it becomes somewhat tedious, monotonous and pedestrian. Is it too much to ask to give Alex some personality? He's a very bland hero and not the brightest, either, since Declan manages to escape from him in Texas. The same can be said about Declan who's just as forgettable. What ensues after Alex arrives in London is just a long cat-and-mouse chase that's somewhat exciting--this doesn't even come close to Ronin, a cult classic and guilty pleasure, though.

      One Ranger has to elements going for it that keep it afloat: thrlling action scenes and Thomas Jane's charisma. He's not quite as charismatic as Keanu Reeves is in John Wick, but he does manage to breathe some much-needed life into his role through his charismatic performance. It's too bad that he's stuck with a dull and unimaginative screenplay. The cinematography is average at best without adding visual style or panache. The pace moves briskly, though, so at least the film avoids becoming a lethargic bore. At a running time of 1 hour and 35 minutes, One Ranger is a mildly engaging, but mindless and dull action thriller elevated by Thomas Jane's charisma and thrilling action scenes.

Number of times I checked my watch: 2
Released by Lionsgate.
Opens at Cinema Village and on VOD.

What's Love Got to Do With It?

Directed by Shekhar Kapur

      Kazim (Shazad Latif), a doctor, and his next door neighbor, Zoe (Lily James), a documentary filmmaker, have been friends since childhood. Zoe documents Kazim's journey to find a Pakistani wife through an arranged marriage because his parents are putting the pressure on him to get married according to Muslim tradition.

      The screenplay by Jemima Khan initially seems like it might become a sparkling romcom in the vein of When Harry Met Sally..., but instead it turns into a schmaltzy, contrived, conventional and sugar-coated film that takes no risks and plays it too safely. There's a somewhat funny innuendo that briefly generates some laughs in the first act, though, which hint at what could've been a subversively funny, irreverent comedy, i.e like the title of Zoe's documentary project "Love Contractually". Zoe has an overbearing mother (Emma Thompson) who desperately wants her to get married because she fears that, otherwise, she'll end up a spinster. When Zoe confronts her about how she feels like she'll be judged by her for not being with a man, her mom goes on a preachy rant about how she doesn't want her to be alone and that shouldn't shut people out of her life. Her mom doesn't quite acknowledge her hurtful actions or the consequences of her actions, so her character arc isn't very believable. It's not quite clear what her own childhood was like that might've led to her need to control her daughter's love life. You also learn very little about Kazim's soon-to-be Pakistani wife. Is she not a human being with feelings, too? The ending can be seen from a mile away which isn't a good sign, so, yes, this is the kind of film that you can leave to go to the bathroom, return, and feel like you didn't miss anything because you could easily see where it's going---and you'd probably predict it correctly unless you haven't seen a romcom before. What's Love Got to Do with It? isn't a terrible film nor does it, but it just pales compared to far more smart, surprising and funny romcoms like When Harry Met Sally... and Love Actually.

      Unfortunately, Lily James and Shazad Latif lack palpable chemistry on screen. They look cute together, but nothing more, so it's hard to truly care whether or not Kazim and Zoe will end up together. Neither of them has good comedic timing when the film calls for comic relief. To be fair, the dull screenplay doesn't provide them with enough of a window into their characters' heart, mind and soul. Moreover, the cinematography, editing, soundtrack and set design are all mediocre and bland at best without adding much in terms of style. The film often looks like a made-for-TV movie or a sitcom because of how it's shot and lit. At a running time of 1 hour and 48 minutes, What's Love Got to Do with It is a harmless and intermittently funny, but conventional romcom without enough surprises, wit or insight about love or friendship.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by SHOUT! STUDIOS.
Opens nationwide.

You Can Live Forever

Directed by Sarah Watts & Mark Slutsky

      After the death of her father, Jaime (Anwen O'Driscoll) moves in with her aunt, Beth (Liane Balaban), and uncle, Jean-Francois (Antoine Yared), who are Jehovah's Witnesses living in a Jehovah's Witness community. She meets Marike (June Laporte), the daughter of Jehovah's Witness Elder, and their friendship blossoms into a forbidden romance.

      The screenplay by co-writers/directors Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky barely allows the audience to learn what Jaime's life is like at home with her father. Before you know it, he dies and she gets sent off to the Jehovah's Witness community to live with her aunt and uncle. Before you know it, she meets and falls in love with Marike in a community where LGBTQ relationships aren't allowed. The filmmakers do an effective job of not turning anyone in the community into a villain even though Jaime and Marike have to hide their relationship from others and suppress their emotions. They clearly live in a toxic environment where they can't be truly happy together. Marike isn't the kind of person to stand up to her family to confront them or to run away from them. The story takes place in the 90's before the days of the internet and when LGBTQ didn't have as many rights as they do nowadays--that was back during the days of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell." It's easy to see where the plot of You Can Live Forever is heading toward because Jaime and Marike's relationship is doomed unless they can escape the community somehow. The filmmakers avoid maudlin and melodramatic scenes or diving deeply into dark territory. It doesn't turn into a thriller either like Bones and All. There's some on-the-nose dialogue, but also a lot that remains unspoken and understated concurrently. That said, the bittersweet tone becomes monotonous without much-needed levity. Moreover, it's hard to grasp what's going on in Marike's mind because she remains underdeveloped as a character despite that there's a lot going on inside of her emotionally. You Can Live Forever squanders its opportunity to humanize her enough to make the story as powerful, illuminating and haunting as other LGBTQ coming-of-age films like Show Me Love.

      You Can Live Forever also suffers from uneven, clunky pacing with some scenes that feel too short during the first act and scenes that overstay their welcome during the second and third act. Anwen O'Driscoll and June Laporte give convincingly moving performances that provide emotional resonance. They have palpable chemistry together. Unfortunately, the poignant moments rarely come from the shallow screenplay. However, co-writers/directors Sarah Watts and Mark Slutsky grasp the power of quietness and that a lot can be communicated visually without anything being spoken---body language speaks volumes, especially in the last scene that won't be spoiled here. They also include some visual poetry with some beautifully-shot scenes with Jaime and Marike together. At a running time of 1 hour and 36 minutes, You Can Live Forever is a mildly engaging, but monotonous and underwhelming coming-of-age story with moving performances.

Number of times I checked my watch: 3
Released by Good Deed Entertainment.
Opens at Village East by Angelika.